Ninth-inning rally leads Tigers to win
Polanco's RBI single leads to four-run final frame, series win
SEATTLE -- It's not that Sundays are any more important than other days of the week. It's that as a baseball team, you'd like to win on a Sunday once in a while.
No matter what the day of the week, though, this was a big day for the Tigers.
"If we let it be, it could be a real big win for us," manager Jim Leyland said after a go-ahead, four-run ninth inning earned the Tigers a 7-5 win over the Mariners at Safeco Field.
It marked Detroit's first Sunday win in eight tries this season, but it meant plenty beyond that. It was the rubber game of a series that saw the Tigers score seven runs in the first inning of the first game and then go scoreless for the next 17. It was a close enough game that Carlos Guillen tried a squeeze bunt with a tied score in the top of the fifth, and Detroit's infield was playing in on Raul Ibanez's single in the bottom half.
It was a day in which the Mariners had doubled the Tigers in hits going into the ninth inning, but Detroit stayed close with damage control on the mound and big plays in the field. The Tigers went 5-for-12 with runners in scoring position, put up four two-out RBI hits and nearly doubled their ninth-inning run total for the season. Guillen moved to left field for his first time in his career and actually had fun, doing his best Rickey Henderson impersonation.
Just past the midway point of a 10-day, nine-game West Coast trip, it was big enough that Leyland stopped just short of mentioning momentum.
"The way we won it in the ninth inning," Leyland said, "we haven't had much of that. We hung in there, hung in there, finally got it in the ninth against one of the great closers in all of baseball. That's a nice win for us. Sometimes a loss is a loss, but today would've been a real bad loss for us."
Other than the occasional wraparound series that continues into Monday, Sunday is usually the final game of a series, often a getaway day before heading home or to another city. Whether you look at a team's fortunes game by game, series by series or week to week, Sundays are meaningful.
In the Tigers' case, they were 0-7 on Sundays heading into this one, and four of them were rubber games to series. None of those rubber-game losses were closer than four runs.
This one was close pretty much the whole afternoon. And in a manner more befitting the 2006 Tigers, they pulled it out.
Tigers starter Jeremy Bonderman gave up a career-high 12 hits, but turned it into a quality start with three runs allowed over seven innings by stranding eight runners on base. He left runners at the corners in both the third and fourth, the latter with a called third strike on Ichiro Suzuki, and held Seattle to just the go-ahead run in the fifth by stranding runners on first and second.
"They had me on the ropes a couple times, but I was able to get out of it," Bonderman said. "I didn't have a very good breaking ball today, so I'll take the results with what I had."
After Ivan Rodriguez's sacrifice fly scored Miguel Cabrera to tie the game again, Bonderman gave up back-to-back one-out singles. What should have been runners at the corners and one out with Ichiro's single to left-center, however, collapsed when Curtis Granderson fired a one-hopper to Brandon Inge's glove to tag out Yuniesky Betancourt going to third.
"That was all Curtis," Inge said.
Once Bonderman was out, Zach Miner stranded a runner on third in an eighth-inning sac fly situation by jamming Betancourt with a 94 mph fastball that shattered his bat as his line drive went right to Inge. After an intentional walk to Ichiro, Miner induced an inning-ending groundout from Jose Lopez.
The late innings should've been an advantage for the Mariners bullpen. Michigan native J.J. Putz hadn't allowed a run to his former home-state team over 15 innings since he was a rookie in 2004, but the Tigers hit him well enough to tally more runs on him than he had allowed to the Tigers for his career to that point.
Inge escaped a 1-2 count to draw a one-out walk, then Granderson hit several hard shots foul before pulling a ground ball under first baseman Miguel Cairo for a single to put runners at the corners. Placido Polanco blooped the next pitch into short right field for an RBI single and a timely end to his 0-for-10 slump.
Putz briefly recovered with a Guillen ground ball for the second out, but Ordonez beat out an infield single for another RBI and a two-run lead. Cabrera followed with a line drive down the left-field line to plate two more runs and build a 7-3 advantage.
As Seattle rallied in the bottom of the inning, those eventually became the deciding tallies. Ibanez hit a two-run homer off Tigers closer Todd Jones to halve the lead before Kenji Johjima's walk brought the potential tying run to the plate, but Jones recovered to salvage the non-save situation.
Granderson scored three times in a 1-for-4 performance. Guillen combined with Ordonez and Cabrera for a 6-for-14, five-RBI performance from the middle of the Tigers order.
This one, however, meant more than numbers. The flow, the smell that Leyland has referred to this week was better, he said. With one more West Coast landing ahead, it was a very good Sunday.
"That was a big game in a lot of ways," Leyland said. "We're even on the West Coast so far and we'll have a nice, fun flight with the guys to Oakland; try to go in there and win two out of three."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.